"Blues, b-l-u-e-s," a disembodied voice, heard on a sample cued by Jason Moran, blurted out at the start of the inspired first set of the pianist's first performance of the new year.

"Blues, b-l-u-e-s," a disembodied voice, heard on a sample cued by Jason Moran, blurted out at the start of the inspired first set of the pianist's first performance of the new year. It was an apropos intro to a show during which Moran and his Bandwagon partners, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, explored the infinite offspring of jazz, hip-hop, rock and country-folk while always returning to the bluesy bedrock of music that shares the same mother, per the title of the group's 2005 CD.

"This is a fresh space for us," Moran told a rapt audience at Birdland, an intimate but comfortable listening room that's a short walk from the midtown hotels where more than 8,000 jazz devotees were gathered for the International Association for Jazz Education conference; several IAJE attendees took a break from the convention to hear Moran.

Likewise, the music, drawn in part from last year's "Artist in Residence" CD, was intriguingly fresh, with the trio creatively navigating terrain ranging from hard-driving bop to bluesy funk grooves to free-floating ballads to raw, rambunctious bashing. The three, after playing together on so many recordings and concerts, seem to operate as a single simultaneously morphing rhythm-melody-and-improv unit. Mateen, playing his distinctive looking sunburst Marco acoustic bass guitar, snaked his rubbery, searching lines perfectly in sync with the sturdy, eclectic trap-kit work of Waits.

"Arizona Landscape," built atop a bass pattern reminiscent of "Happy Trails," had Moran dipping into gospel-blues, while he hinted at "I Mean You" on "Kinda Dukish," on the heels of "Milestone" and a piece from the leader's "Gangsterism" cycle.

The rhythmic patterns of human voices were matched by instrumental phrases on two pieces -- "Ringing My Phone," keyed by the sound of a Turkish woman speaking to her mother on a cell phone and "Artists Ought to Be Writing," sparked by the sampled voice of performance artist Adrian Piper. Moran, thankfully, remains committed to the art of jazz-rooted musical exploration that knows few boundaries.

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